“The question is really: Christianity or
GermanismAmericanism? And the sooner the conflict is revealed in the clear light of day the better.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Adapted
During the maddening 2016 election cycle, I felt a lot of pressure. It came from several religious and political sources. I was “encouraged” to guide the congregation into voting for “the right guy/gal.” I had a lot of unsolicited mail delivered to me asking to sign this petition or pass that one around the church. There were voting guide leaflets with the two candidates organized by the “big issues.” It called itself “bipartisan” but you only needed to read a couple of sentances to see the agenda. I didn’t pass out or sign anything, but some of the members did it for me.
As the campaign rhetoric reached fever pitch an old struggle emerged. It was, as Simon and Garfunkel sang, “…the vision that was planted in my brain” that still remained. I couldn’t stomach any more “Make America Great Again” yard signs (most of which were UUUUGE). I couldn’t look at any more “Stronger Together” bumper stickers because “
I’m Not With Her.” I couldn’t look at Facebook or Twitter without seeing people eviscerating one another. America, it seemed, was collapsing under her own patriotic rage.
I, like most of you, grew up in the greatest country ever established. I grew up educated in American exceptionalism. I watched 9/11 live from Mrs. Fairchild’s English class. I joined the anger and hatred directed at outsiders and Muslims because I was afraid. I watched Operation Shock and Awe begin live on CNN in my Community Service class. I watched the rockets red glare crush the city of Baghdad. I saw apartment towers collapse. I saw the fury of a nation scorned bringing retribution to the enemy. And I relished in it. I celebrated death. I welcomed destruction with open arms. I cheered for anger.
In 2004 I became a Christian. It was to be my first election. I was a registered democrat and then I went to Bible College. I’ll never forget the day I wore a John Kerry shirt to classes. I received stares, giggles, and a lot of pity for being so naive. The well-meaning brothers and sisters told me that true Christians had to vote for the other guy. So I did.
I learned something that year. A lot of Jesus people see little difference between how true Christianity and America differ. Since God is against abortion, you should vote for the anti-abortion nominee. Since God is against homosexuality, you should vote for the candidate who is too. I also learned a few election cycles later that folks expect a minister to tell everybody else that.
It was 2012 that I began to grow suspect of my previous convictions. I knew something gnawing at my conscience was the Holy Spirit asking me to reconsider previous viewpoints. Yet, I was apprehensive with the idea of saying anything to anyone. Ministers had lost congregations because of these kinds of ideas – at worst. At best I would be labeled unpatriotic, liberal, or someone who didn’t support our troops. Some would say I was afraid to take a stand, I had no conviction, or I was satanic. None of those things are true about me, by the way.
There are those of you reading right now who might share those same convictions. If I’m honest, the idea that some of you might still be reading this makes me happy. Like many American churchgoers this might be hard for you. The idea that an American minister refuses to use the pulpit to sway political opinion is crazy. To think that my theological convictions prevent me from doing that seems unbelievable. I mean, aren’t we supposed to be “taking America back for God?” If you want to label me liberal, flip-floppy, unpatriotic, or even a Communist, I can’t stop you. Again I say that none of those things are true about me.
You need to know that as I walk through this series of posts I do respect your convictions. I also want to challenge you to keep your mind open and to ponder the ideas I present. Nothing more engenders personal and spiritual growth more than considering another’s thoughts. Even those ideas that may be offensive and vexing. I understand that you might get offended. I expect some of you will get angry. I only ask that you give serious thought to what I write and wrestle with the thoughts I present.
So what’s main idea that I’ll be working through? What’s my hypothesis? Here it is:
A large sector of American Christians are guilty of political and nationalistic idolatry. To a horrific extent.
Many American Christians fuse the Kingdom of God with the kingdom of this world. It seems that we have draped Jesus in an American flag and put Him in the White House. Rather than fixating on our understanding of the Kingdom of God through the person of Jesus – who, as I recall, never let Himself get pulled in to political disputes in His day – many of us American Christians have allowed our understanding God’s Kingdom to get contaminated with political ideas, agendas, and issues.
For many Christians, as Greg Boyd notes,
“The Kingdom of God is largely about, if not centered on, ‘taking America back for God,’ voting for the Christian candidate, outlawing abortion, outlawing gay marriage, winning the culture wars, defending political freedom at home and abroad, keeping the phrase ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance, fighting for prayer in schools and public events, fighting to display the Ten Commandments in government buildings. “
I won’t argue that these issues are either wrong or right. I’m not saying that Christians should never be involved in politics.
Because this issue is much more basic than who you should vote or take part in government.
I will argue that the above position is misguided. That trying to merge any other kingdom with the Kingdom of God is idolatrous. It is hampering the mission of the Church in America. It is hurting our witness for Christ.
Instead, I want to object to the idea that finding the right political path has anything to do with advancing the Kingdom of God. I hope that you will join me in this journey. I pray that you will test everything I say against the Scriptures for yourself. I pray that you will think about the next several posts.
We will do well to remember that there is a very fine line between patriotism and idolatry
something to think about,